The first owner is believed to have been A. Mitchell Palmer, who was appointed U.S. attorney general by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Palmer is best known for overseeing the Palmer Raids during the Red Scare of 1919 and 1920.
Followers of the Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani, who advocated murdering government leaders to provoke an anti-capitalist revolution, began a bombing campaign after World War I. Palmer was the target of at least two bombs.
After a bomb that had been mailed to Palmer was intercepted, Carlo Valdinoci, a Galleanist, set off a bomb in front of the house in June 1919. The bomb exploded prematurely, killing Valdinoci. Palmer was shaken by the blast, as were Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, who lived across the street.
Palmer created an agency called the Bureau of Investigation — the predecessor of the FBI — to gather intelligence on the anarchists, putting J. Edgar Hoover in charge. The massive roundup of radicals that followed became known as the Palmer Raids.
The house had a star turn in the 2011 movie “J. Edgar.”
“The very beginning of the movie is the bombing of this house,” said Wayne Hickory, an orthodontist who has owned the house since 1997. “They filmed some of it out here. And they re-created some of the inside of the house in Hollywood, the main stairway and everything. … If you go to the FBI website, the history of the FBI, the house is there, too.”
Palmer sold the house in 1924 to Edith S. Vanderbilt, widow of George Vanderbilt, who built Biltmore House in North Carolina. Anthony Muto, the Washington representative for 20th Century Fox and Fox Movietone News, bought it in 1944.
Gladstone Williams, a newspaper columnist known as the “master of prophecy” for his accurate election predictions, bought the house in 1960. His widow remained there until her death in 1993.
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Hickory said he bought the house not because of its history but because it had the ideal layout for his purposes. He wanted to run his orthodontics practice out of the first floor and live on the upper levels.
“This is kind of a European-style house, where the ground floor is not the main floor,” Hickory said. “It was really ideal for a home office.”
It took him 3½ years to renovate the house with the help of architect Don Hawkins, who preserved many of its historical features. One of the challenges Hawkins faced was relocating the kitchen from the first floor to the second floor.
“He came up with the idea of that counter to extend the kitchen area but preserve the overall look of that room,” Hickory said. “For entertaining, it’s amazing.”
The copper-clad bar matches the copper cabinetry in the kitchen.
Besides six offices and exam rooms on the main level, the house has two guest suites with their own kitchens on the third and fourth floors. The basement has an exercise pool with a swim current, and the roof deck has a hot tub. An elevator runs to all levels.
The six-bedroom, eight-bathroom, 8,000-square-foot house has a “diplomatic overlay,” a zoning provision that allows it to be used as an embassy. It is listed at just under $5 million.
Listing: 2132 R St. NW, Washington, D.C.
Listing agent: Jennie McDonnell, Long & Foster
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